Recognising efforts to reduce pollutant runoff

Landholders, regional natural resource management organisations, agricultural industry bodies, conservation groups and government agencies work together to improve land management practices throughout the reef catchments.

However, there are time lags between making changes on land and seeing improvements in natural systems. The Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2015 shows the inshore area of the reef remained in poor condition. This area is most impacted by activities that occur on the land.

The Queensland and Australian governments run a broad range of programs to improve the health of the reef. These include managing impacts from fishing, tourism, ports and industry; adapting to climate change impacts and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The governments are also funding a crown-of-thorns starfish management program and supporting land management practice change to reduce pollutants flowing to the reef.

Achievements in 2014–15

Report Card 2015 details the area of land managed using best management practice systems based on improvements reported through the Australian Government’s Reef Programme.

Many other programs, including Queensland Government extension activities, Reef Trust projects and industry Best Management Practice programs, are working with landholders. However, learning new skills and putting new farming practices into action takes time. These programs are expected to report improvements for Report Card 2016.

Two innovative Reef Trust sugarcane projects started in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin regions in 2014 and 2016. Early results show growers have reduced the amount of nitrogen applied on their properties in the Wet Tropics by 86 tonnes.


(Approximately 8,545 graziers managing 31.1 million hectares of land and over 100,000km of streambanks)

  • 36 per cent of grazing land was managed using best management practice systems:
    • 28 per cent for erosion from pastures (8.8 million hectares)
    • 54 per cent for streambank erosion (60,000km of streambanks)
    • 25 per cent for gully erosion (7.6 million hectares)
  • 402 grazing businesses managing over 4.2 million hectares were involved in the Grazing BMP program
  • 215 businesses managing over seven million hectares were involved in Queensland Government extension programs.


(Approximately 3777 sugarcane growers managing 400,000 hectares)

  • 23 per cent of sugarcane land was managed using best management practice systems:
    • 32 per cent for pesticides (139,000 hectares)
    • 16 per cent for nutrients (69,000 hectares)
    • 23 per cent for soil (101,000 hectares)
  • 836 growers managing 152,895 hectares engaged directly with the Smartcane BMP program up to June 2015
  • more than 600 growers managing approximately 113,000 hectares engaged with Queensland Government extension officers.


(Approximately 970 horticulture producers managing 86,000 hectares)

  • 47 per cent of horticultural land was managed using best management practice systems:
    • 45 per cent for pesticides (39,000 hectares)
    • 24 per cent for nutrients (21,000 hectares)
    • 72 per cent for soil (62,000 hectares)

Extension focus

During 2014–15, both the Queensland and Australian governments focussed on providing extension services to farmers because adopting best practice is complex and challenging. Extension programs aim to increase the rate of adoption of new practices through:

  • providing support for on-farm research by farmers, trialling new practices and working out the best way to adopt those practices on their properties
  • working with landholder groups to develop local understanding of how new practices can best fit into their farming system
  • providing technical support to help farmers plan and implement improved management systems
  • delivering training.

Extension services are known to be effective in encouraging proactive change but it takes time for on-ground results to be verified.

Case study: reducing nitrogen use in the Burdekin

An innovative project testing different nitrogen fertiliser rates across different soils throughout the Burdekin has proven farmers can reduce their fertiliser use while increasing their profits.

The Reef Water Quality Program (RP20) Burdekin Nitrogen Project trials involved Burdekin growers, Sugar Research Australia and the Queensland Government.

Trials were conducted on 23 cane farms and the results included one farmer making $28,000 more profit per year by reducing fertiliser use while increasing sugar produced per hectare.

Given the success of the project, the Queensland Government is offering key components of RP20 to up to 90 farms across the Burdekin over the next two years through the RP161 Complete Nutrient Management for Cane Farming project.